March 11, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Tell me, are we saved or aren’t we?

Cynthia DewesIf there is anything most of us need, it is forgiveness.

When we think of the things that we have done wrong just in the past week, it can be embarrassing. And I’m not talking here about forgetting to put out the trash or missing the mailman by oversleeping. Those are mistakes, not exactly wrongs.

No, I am referring to willful decisions that we make, knowing that we shouldn’t. Things like missing Mass because we want to go fishing or ignoring a child who is obviously anxious to talk because we want to finish reading this chapter or keep watching “Survivor.” You know, those conscience-driven kinds of things.

We may snub our sister because she hurt our feelings or snap at our spouse because we are tired and they are not. We might neglect to tell the sales clerk that she charged us too little because we are in a hurry or pass along a tidbit of gossip because we are feeling mean at the moment. We can choose to be confrontational or sullen or sarcastic.

Usually, murder or extortion or even adultery are not the sins we need to be forgiven for. The biggies of sin just don’t happen in most of our lives. But, lest we take too much comfort in that fact, we know that all the insidious “little” sins can add up.

The key idea here is that our sins are willful. We purposely defy God’s instruction and will—just because we can. That’s free will for you. We may be made in God’s image, but we can ignore our divine heritage by choosing to do wrong. And, ultimately, that requires forgiveness.

Which brings me to the concept of salvation. Recently, while discussing with an old friend what it means to be saved, she startled me by saying that, if we accept Christ and his promises, we are saved. Period. To me, this sounded a bit like the sentiments expressed by aggressive evangelists.

When I told her I thought that idea was presumptuous, she was the startled one. She said her Bible studies, among other things, convinced her that salvation was more or less assured for one who believes in the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, and tries to follow God’s will.

Well, I hope she is right. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there is more to it than that. And if it is Bible backup that we need for our argument, I’ve found it in the book of Sirach: “Of forgiveness, be not overconfident, adding sin upon sin. Say not, ‘Great is his mercy; my many sins he will forgive.’ For mercy and anger alike are with him; upon the wicked, almighty his wrath” (Sir 5:5-7).

While it may be true that you can find support for all kinds of opposing arguments in Scripture, I’m sticking with that one. It seems to me that there are too many little willful wrongs in my life to commit to such confidence. Just because we firmly trust in the mercy of a loving God doesn’t mean that we should forget the responsibilities that come with free will—and its consequences.

It is vanity that lets us compare our willful sins to Satan’s defiance of God, of course. But, much as I would like to believe as my friend does, I think I will just have to wait to find out who is right.

Lent is a good time to think about that on the way to the Easter glory of the Resurrection.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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